A Stable Influence

Stories in the Heartland

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Updated: Sat, 19 Jul 2014 03:20:44 CST

What do you do with troubled teens? And more importantly, how do you set them back on the path to being a productive citizen? That's the challenge for workers at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Kearney. 

While the facility makes headlines for a rash of runaways and assaults, there's another story that deserves the spotlight. In the latest Stories in the Heartland, we'll introduce you to a program that's giving troubled youth "A Stable Influence." 

We have blurred the faces of the teens and we have changed their names to protect their privacy.

Powerful. Graceful. Stubborn.

"They want to change, they just don't know how sometimes," said Lisa Pelster, a Youth Counselor at the YRTC. 

Challenging. Honest. Troublesome.

"We bring them out once a week, Thursday mornings," said Carter Siebke, Director and Instructor of the Kearney Therapeutic Horseback Riding Program. 

The thunder of hooves pounding on the warm sand.

"The horse reacts to how you react," said one of the teens.

"It's a sense of empowerment for them," Pelster said. "Somebody is listening to them."

At 15 to 16 hands tall.

"A horse is a big animal," Siebke said.

Weighing in at nearly 1,000 pounds.

"You've gotta shift your weight, in order for the horse to move," said *Matt, a teen at the YRTC. *Note we have changed the name of the teens and blurred their faces.

There's something majestic about being on a horse.

"It makes me feel like I'm kind of, not really on top of the world but kind of have some control over my life and so it's not all hectic," Matt added.

And control is something these kids need.

"The YRTC is dealing with a monstrous challenge and a monstrous responsibility," Siebke said.

The Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Kearney has dealt with a rash of runaways and assaults.

Lisa Pelster is a Youth Counselor there.

"They are sent there by a judge, so a lot of them have some criminal background," Pelster said.

"If we don't work with these kids now, if we don't try to do the best we can with them, we're going to be dealing with them the rest of their lives," Siebke said.

Four years ago, Carter Siebke came up with an idea.

"You hope that what they're doing out here transfers, that's the whole goal of it," Siebke said.

He's the Director and Instructor for the Kearney Therapeutic Horseback Riding Program.

Every week a group of teens heads to the Bentz Stables.

"It teaches me responsibility," Matt said.

Matt has been at the YRTC for about 3 months. He's nearly reached the third level of the program's five step process.

"You've gotta be willing to work with them, like other people, for them to be willing to work with you," Matt said.

Why put these kids on top of a horse? Because they don't judge. They want you to move on one step at a time.

"They know, hey, it's just a horse it's not going to sit there and judge me by my past choices and why they're at YRTC," Pelster said. 

And for these teens it's a stable influence.

"Is it going to make a drastic effect on every kid, no," Siebke said. "But my feeling is if we can change one kid then we've done something."

The Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Kearney currently serves 95 teens. It's part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The teens start by grooming the horses and leading them before being given the option to ride the horses.

Siebke says in the four years they've had the program, he's never had an issue with any of the teens while they are working at the stables.

This is our latest installment of our franchise Stories in the Heartland. If you have an idea or a story you'd like to tell, email Katie at katie.gauthier@khastv.com. You can also find her on Facebook at Katie Gauthier or on Twitter @KatieGNews5.